The series: Hosted the Mariners (loss, win, win) and the Royals (loss, loss).
The big story: The lineup suffered a massive power outage from every player except Sizemore, as our other 12 "hitters" combined for zero home runs, zero triples and just nine doubles over 145 at-bats — and incidentally only 11 walks over 163 plate appearances — for a .262 slugging percentage. (The major league average last season was .422.) Our middle infielders produced just one single in 30 at-bats. Blake and Hafner combined for just four hits, though all were doubles, in 29 at-bats. The other four regulars (Martinez, Garko, Gutierrez and Dellucci) went the "empty batting average" route, hitting a solid .294 but combining for just three doubles and three walks between them.
The team's curious response was to jettison Jason Michaels in favor of Ben Francisco. Curious, because after a horrendous 3-for-33 start in the team's first 15 games, Michaels had posted an 880 OPS over the past 16 games and was not part of the team's problems in any visible way. Curious, because Michaels has a very team-friendly contract. Curious, because Francisco had gotten off to an equally slow start in Buffalo and had made less of a rebound. Curious, because the two players bring a very similar mix of skills to the roster. Curious, because most in the industry expect Francisco to be a role-player or fringe everyday player, just like Michaels.
Curious, in sum, because it's not clear the Indians have done anything at all except replace one face with another, and usually, that kind of superficial move is reserved for the manager's job. But, you know, they say you can't start a fire without a spark. I guess. Whatever.
In other news: The rest of the rotation also continued to dominate, allowing just one earned run all week before the 7th inning, capped off by Aaron Laffey, who tossed an even better Sunday gem than he did last week, making the Indians look smart for not taking an easy chance to skip his turn in the rotation. Paul Byrd continued a totally unpublicized four-game tear in which he's given up four home runs but only six runs total, and just one walk total, averaging 6.6 IP with a 1.71 ERA. Garko more or less broke out of a hellacious 0-for-24 slump. Wedge seethed a lot. Betancourt was less than inspiring, failing to record a scoreless appearance in three tries.
Meanwhile, over on the Bizarro Planet, Cliff Lee was untouchable for six more innings before finally ending his un-scored-upon streak at 28 innings — giving up a three-run bomb, reducing his outing to a mere quality start, and ballooning his ERA all the way up to 0.96, still easily the best in the majors this season. Like two regressions passing in the night, Sabathia's start was eerily similar to Lee's, beginning with six scoreless innings and ending with three straight hits to start the 7th. Sabathia pitched well overall but still owns the league's worst ERA at 7.51.
Post of the week: Maybe I need to rethink this.
Who fed it: Byrd pitched the best game of the week, allowing just four singles and one walk. Two of those five baserunners were erased trying to steal second, and none of them ever reached second. Byrd retired the leadoff batter in all eight innings, and only two batters reached base with less than two outs. Laffey was nearly as good in his start, allowing just one unearned run on four singles and two walks. Sizemore busted out a 1311 OPS, including as many extra bases (nine) as the rest of the roster combined, and as many walks (five) as the four corner positions plus DH and catcher. Perez had an odd but successful week, at one point earning a "Hold" without facing a single batter; he faced four batters over three other games, producing three groundballs and one flyball, resulting in a single and three outs. Jensen Lewis allowed no hits and one walk over 4.1 innings, and Tom Mastny struck out one guy and allowed another to reach on a groundball error, the only two batters he's faced in the last 19 days. Absolute Best: Sizemore. Relative Best: Byrd.
Honorable mention: in his final start as an Indian (and only start of the week), Jason Michaels hit a double and a sac fly. The next day, he scored the 11th inning game-winner as a pinch-runner in his final game here. Not as dramatic as a farewell home run, but a fitting send-off for a role player who always seemed to be working his ass off out there.
Who ate it: It's been feast-or-famine almost every week for Peralta, and this week, it was an all-out 0-for-13 famine. Cabrera was nearly as bad at 1-for-16. Blake's strikeouts (six) were double his times on base (three); he's played every inning of the last nine games, producing a line of .100/.206/.167. Betancourt, filling in capably for Borowski, yielded two home runs and four singles while retiring only five batters. Hafner hit two doubles in one game but went 0-for-10 in three others; he's struck out 14 times in his last 56 trips to the plate, hitting just four singles and four doubles and drawing only five walks for a line of .167/.250/.250. Breslow totally crapped the bed in his only appearance in the last 19 days. Absolute Worst: Peralta. Relative Worst: Betancourt.
The other guys: The Twins surged while the White Sox struggled and the Tigers scuffled. The division more than ever looks like it will go to any team that can manage anything close to 90 wins, as the Tigers' pitching and the Indians' hitting look no more likely to come together than the White Sox or Twins going on a big flukey run.
- Not one single hitter having a good year by his own standards.
- Betancourt, terrible.
- Roger Clemens, apologizing for something.
- Not one formidable opponent in the AL Central.
- Can the starters walk on water long enough for the lineup to regroup and win a few games?
- Is there something fundamentally wrong with the organizational approach to hitting, and how long can Derek Shelton keep his job?
- When Cliff Lee returns to reality, what will that look like?
- Which teams are really in the AL Central race, anyway?
- Just how bad will the game have to be going before we see Mastny or Breslow again, and how bad will they be after a 15-day layoff?
- Too soon to write Laffey's name into our starting rotation plans, 2009-2013?
- Can Betancourt regain anything remotely resembling his 2007 dominance for any amount of time, or will he scuffle back-and-forth all season as he did in 2006?
- Is Jensen Lewis back on track, sort of?
- How many relievers would have to be failing completely for Adam Miller to get the call to the big-league bullpen? Do we even want to see him there?
- Could Sowers be on the block soon?
- Could the Indians really consider Marte more or less expendable and Blake more or less untouchable?